How is China using porn to control news about protests?
Thousands of people in China have taken to the streets to protest against the Xi Jinping government's 'zero-COVID policy.' However, if you go to Twitter and enter the name of any city in China, you will instead see a cascade of spam tweets with links to porn, escort services, and gambling content. And guess what that's doing? Making it hard to find legitimate results.
Chinese protesters are depending on foreign platforms for communication
In a rare act of defiance, the Chinese have started protesting against the country's stringent zero-tolerance policy toward COVID-19. Any discussions related to the protests are banned on Chinese social media sites. This has forced the protesters to depend on foreign platforms like Twitter or Telegram to get their message out. So, what do the spam tweets with porn have to do with that?
Spam tweets from bots have increased significantly
Now that protests have swept China, there is a significant uptick in bot content linked with Chinese accounts. Spamming by Chinese bot accounts, which are believed to be connected to the government, is nothing new. However, the way they have picked up activity in the last few days is what's surprising. What do these spam tweets do anyway?
The accounts tweet at a high, steady rate
A Chinese data analyst on Twitter (@AirMovingDevice) tested the search results. When he searched for Beijing, Shanghai, and other cities in Chinese, he found out that the vast majority of tweets that come up in the latest search results are from spam accounts. According to him, they tweet at a "high, steady rate" every day, suggesting that they are bots.
This analysis shows a significant increase in Chinese bot activity
This is also true when I search for 上海 (Shanghai).— Air-Moving Device (@AirMovingDevice) November 28, 2022
Note that these are just a small sample of the search results -- go and search 北京/上海 and you'll see new spam tweets come up every few seconds. So the number of spam accounts is way larger than a few hundred. pic.twitter.com/FhtX6N2mZV
Spam tweets hide legitimate results
The spam tweets with the name of a city and links to escorts, porn, or gambling drown legitimate results on Twitter. Considering the high number of spam tweets, every time you search for a Chinese city, the chances of you landing on one such tweet are very high. This technique has been used before as well to hide news on Twitter.
How will Musk handle bots?
Now that we know what the Chinese bots do, the next question is, what will Twitter do about this? Considering how Elon Musk axed most of the platform's teams tasked with battling misinformation, it'll be interesting to see how he handles this. Especially since bots have always been a touching issue for the billionaire CEO of Twitter.